It’s that time of the year when we spend a little time looking into the issues and factors that will influence your favourite teams leading into the upcoming season. For this outing, we’ll be looking at the Chicago Blackhawks.
With two Stanley Cup championships in four seasons, it might be tempting for the Blackhawks to become complacent. Amid whispers of “dynasty” and other vainglorious sports terms, the club has to somehow find a way to ground themselves in a league that can be as unpredictable as it is frustrating.
But that unpredictability seems to have skipped Chicago this time, as the Blackhawks enter the 2013-2014 season with most of their winning roster intact. Things have changed from the roster overhaul of 2010, where the salary cap meant that eight of the players that were instrumental in winning the Cup had to go elsewhere.
This time, the Blackhawks saw few key subtractions. Ray Emery and Viktor Stalberg were not re-signed, while Michael Frolik and Dave Bolland were traded. Other than that, the Cup-winners are in place for another run.
“The will to win it again will definitely be in place because we know the character these guys have and what they bring,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’re just trying to win and be successful. It comes with it. It’s been a nice start to these guys’ careers and they should be proud of what they have achieved, but I don’t think anyone is satisfied.”
Of course, Chicago does have some questions and concerns going into the new season.
Among them, the question of who’ll start at centre on the second line is compelling, The Blackhawks have a number of candidates for the job, including Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri. Of the two Brandons, Pirri is a heavy favourite among analysts because of his nose for the game. He’s a point-producing pivot and sticking him on the second line means that Saad can stay on the wing. Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are also in the running.
The health of Marian Hossa could also be an issue. Quenneville says that the forward is ready to go after the initial thought was that he’d need surgery. Hossa missed the third game of the Stanley Cup Final with a bad back and saw limited activity following that, but doctors say that it’s healed on its own.
Also of the issues facing the Blackhawks, the arrival of Nikolai Khabibulin as Corey Crawford’s back-up has the potential to make things interesting. Crawford jelled nicely with Emery last season and was able to push himself to the starter job thanks in large part to the input of goalie coach Stephane Waite. But Waite’s gone and the influence of Khabibulin in the back-up slot could push things in another direction altogether.
Even so, it’s hard to argue that goaltending will be much of an issue with the Blackhawks. Crawford has proven himself to the fans and he’s earned the faith of his teammates, so it’ll probably take more than a change in support to shake his game.
Obviously Chicago remains strong up front. The likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and the aforementioned Hossa need no introduction. And with prospects like Pirri, 25-year-old winger Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin among the leading candidates for roster spots, the potential holes in the line-up can be filled without breaking a sweat.
Defensively, the state of the team remains strong. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Nick Leddy lead the forces from the blueline. Of those defenders, only Leddy has shown cracks in the foundation. The 22-year-old saw diminishing returns in the post-season and Quenneville dropped his ice time in favour of Michal Rozsival when the big games mattered.
Still, the questions and issues plaguing the Blackhawks are minuscule in comparison to what many other teams are facing. With the Cup-winning roster largely in place and the desire to win again at a fever pitch, Chicago has to be a favourite going into 2013-2014.